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Job in January

January 21, 2013

In some ways, it seems a bit cruel, placing Job in January.  The days are short, cold penetrates everything, spring seems so far off.  Wouldn’t reading Job take place better in March when hope returns?  But no, in my chronological daily Bible, Job comes in the second half of January, when darkness is prevalent and hope seems far off.  Fitting, I guess.

Job comes in January because of the date is is believed to be written.  According to many Biblical scholars, Job was written around the time that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah lived.  Its location in the regular Bible is more based on the type of book it is–wisdom literature like Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations–than chronological order.

Job isn’t an easy book to read.  I have a hard time making sense of it.  Job’s friends and the wife are the “bad guys” as my boys would say.  Job is an innocent.  God has allowed the satan to take everything from Job except for his life–he’s afflicted with sores and sicknesses, his servants are dead, his livestock is dead, and all his children are dead.  All seems to be lost.  At first Job’s friends come to sit with him and console him.  For seven days and nights they sat with Job in silence (Job 1:13 NLT) “for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”   These seemed like good friends to me, quite sympathetic to Job’s suffering.  Job broke the silence, not the friends, ending his speech with these words:

I cannot eat for sighing;

my groans pour out like water.

What I always feared has happened to me.

What I dreaded has come true.

I have no peace, no quietness.

I have no rest; only trouble comes.

—-Job 3:24-26 NLT

One by one, Job’s friends speak to him, trying to say the right thing in Job’s time of suffering, trying to say what they think God would want them to say.  One by one, Job lashes out at them, frustrated with their judgement and lack of understanding.  Job cries out to God, pleading for God to address him and not be absent.

I am thankful I’ve read commentary and theology about the Bible, especially when it comes to books like Job.  Job ranks up their with the prophets as Bible literature I have a hard time understanding.  Why in the world was the book included in the Bible?  A few books have helped me.  In Phillip Yancey’s book, The Bible Jesus Read, a whole chapter was devoted to Job.  Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns has helped me.  As I am reading this time, I am trying to use the lens of the Jesus to read Job.  What does Job say that points to Jesus?  I was struck with this passage this morning:

DSC_6785God is not a mortal like me,

so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.

If only there were a mediator between us,

someone who could bring us together.

—–Job 9:32-33 NLT

Those words reminded me why needed Jesus, to be the mediator between God us, because God is not a mortal like us.  Even Job felt the need, some 200o or so years before Jesus was born.

Job and I are becoming friends.  Last time I read Job a couple of years ago, I found a few nuggets, this time, I’m finding more from this man who questions what we all questions at times, why do bad things happen to good people?    There is much we can learn from Job, whether it is what not to say to person who is grieving (for example, telling them that maybe they should examine their heart to figure out how they or their sons sinned is a bad idea) to realizing it is ok to call to God in anguish, to ask to reckon with God alone.  Not so much has changed between now and then, as evidenced in Job 13:7-10 (NLT):

Are you defending God with lies?

Do you make dishonest arguments for his sake?

Will you slant your testimony in his favor?

Will you argue God’s case for him?

What will happen when he find out what you are doing?

Can you fool him as easily as you fool people?

No, you will be in trouble with him

if you secretly slant your testimony in his favor.

Haven’t we all done that, when we’ve relied on the law to guide us instead of God’s love?  Then we make it a bit worse, and pretend the law is what God desired, ignoring the fact that love trumps everything.  Love trumps not dancing on Sundays while playing cards and listening to rock and roll.

Yesterday, when I started reading Job (I was a day behind, all caught up now), Rachel Held Evans linked to another blog post for her Sunday Superlatives that was written about Job.  I love how “coincidences” like that pop up.  On Pastor Jonathan Martin’s blog, he says the following about Job:

Job must learn how to confront a world like that where there are no guarantees, and yet learn to live without fear.  I think here of Frederick Buechner’s beautiful quote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

This is the God of the sea, the undomesticated One who is not beholden to any of our systems.  It does not negate the fact that there are negative consequences for some of our choices within the created order and positive consequences for others.  But God Himself does not play by any such rules.  It has never been true that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  It is rather true that we all live at sea where there are forces beyond our control at work that we cannot fathom, much less understand.  What has also been true is that God’s heart toward His creation has always been to show kindness, mercy, tenderness and grace.  It is grace available to all people.  Any and every good thing we ever experience in this life is a gift; any and every good thing is grace.  It has always been grace and grace alone.

Job is hard because life is hard.  Things suck sometimes.  Bad things happen for no reason.  Too many parents have to bury a child.  Good people lose their jobs.  Marriages just don’t work out sometimes, even between two incredible people.  Debilitating illnesses and injuries occur to the nicest people.  Since humans have existed, we’ve tried to explain why, to find some logic or meaning.  Job is my friend because he understood that.  Job knew that he was nothing like God and couldn’t understand God, nor should he be able to explain God.  Job knew God could handle his questions, his pleading, his words of anguish and wishes for death.

And so, for the rest of the month, I will spend time with my friend Job.  I will read his words of anguish and experience grief and pain again. I will see how grief is grief when one is engulfed in it, and it is not to be categorized or compared as less or more than someone else’s grief. I will appreciate Job’s cries of his humility and humanity while recognizing God’s might and power.  I will echo Job’s words of sorrow when I need them and equally echo his words of devotion and testimony to God’s power.  Job is evidence that good things happen to bad people and God doesn’t always step and intervene and that DOESN’T mean that someone didn’t have enough faith or enough love.

To repeat Frederick Buechner’s word again, “Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”

We are not alone.

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